And For Apple’s Next Trick…

I wrote the following commentary in March 2012, which I reproduce unaltered apart from slight adjustments to paragraph placement.

There is something truly magic in the performance art of a magician. You know it is all sleight of hand, but no matter how hard you try, your attention is distracted; in the twinkling of an eye, you are fooled again. So it was with Apple’s event in March: as I have been saying since the first iPad, it’s not just about the hardware but the content.

Within seven years of its launch in 2003, iTunes Store became the world’s largest vendor of music.

Given its near-global access, it is unsurprising that its catalogue and sales figures are unrivalled: more than 20 million music tracks available, and currently selling around 10 million music tracks each day, on average. Its movie department has so far been rather more modest, launching in 2005 with mainly music videos and episodes of TV shows. But its catalogue has grown strongly, to exceed 2,500 movies and 3,000 TV shows for the USA alone.

Although Apple remains serious about its iBookstore, it cannot compete with Amazon’s claimed one million titles available for Kindles. But despite the enhanced capabilities of the Kindle Fire, Amazon’s vision has been narrower and it is still something of a one-trick pony. Apple wants to remain a key player in education, though, with iPads supplanting traditional computers in so many schools and colleges throughout North America and Europe, hence staking its claim to the vital textbook territory, and iTunes U.

The new iPad is designed as the perfect platform for watching movies. With its stunning 2048 by 1536 display, it exceeds the requirements for today’s crop of high def movies, and anything that Blu-ray can hope to deliver. Far from the rumoured quad-core processor, Apple has put the power where it is most needed: a quad-core graphics unit, coupled with only a dual-core main processor. Its built-in 5 megapixel camera shoots 1080p movies at 30 frames per second. This is truly the optimum portable personal movie player.

Yet again, Apple’s competitors appear to have been caught short of ideas, plans, or anything that might pass as a response. This is in spite of the obvious clues placed in Steve Jobs’ biography, the pages of MacUser, and the iTunes Store itself.

Apple has wanted the TV market, and if you think that means waiting for Apple TV sales to rise, you need to go back to business school. There is clearly a handsome profit to be made from selling hardware, but Apple’s soaring cash mountain has in large part been built from sales of content.

For us, as consumers, this looks very good. Our Macs have never lured us to Blu-ray. Buying movies online, from a wholly legitimate source, works neatly around the still unresolved situation over the legality of ripping our own from DVD, and the wasted time trying to do so.

The iTunes Store is actually an excellent vendor: with such a vast catalogue of tracks, I was recently able to purchase several albums of polyphonic Georgian folk music. Already its movie catalogue is outstanding, with a rich range of classics from Hitchcock, Chaplin, and of course my favourite Casablanca, which I look forward to watching in HD on the new iPad’s Retina display. Pricing is reasonable, and if you don’t want to bother watching a movie again, rental costs are very competitive.

The only real losers here are Apple’s competitors, who yet again fell for the old trick of watching the hardware, not the content revenues to come. The old magician may no longer be with us, but his magic lives on.

The above was first published in MacUser volume 28 issue 09, 2012.

Now, five years after the launch of the iPad, Apple is engaged in a very different performance. This time its competitors tried to steal a march, launching their ranges of smart watches a year before Apple, banking on what were Apple’s clear intentions.

However early indications are that it is Apple which has again gained the upper hand, with Android Wear products establishing only a novelty niche, whilst Apple sold out of its first production runs of over 2 million Watches within the first few hours of taking pre-orders.

Only time will tell if this new magic works…